May is Mental Health Month, and this article is in honor of this month, plus it’s my birthday month, and I’m glad to still celebrate birthdays!
This is an extra-long post. As a warning, I tell you the story of my suicide attempt. This is 100% from my point of view. It has taken courage to reveal this story to the public. It is my truth as I know it. If you are so moved to make a comment about my story, I request that you be kind. To kick this article off, I have a reassuring video reminding you that I am okay these days.
It starts in 2011
In 2011, I started having big trouble managing my financial life. I was struggling to pay the people who were helping me to build my business, TeamWILD Athletics LLC. I didn’t know how to get help to sort out the financial aspects of running my own business. I was two years behind in paying my taxes in full. I had filed on time, and I was on a payment plan with the IRS, but I didn’t know how I would ever pay them back. I felt very alone and very overwhelmed. I didn’t tell anyone, as I felt like I should somehow already know how to fix things.
The oldest child
I’m the oldest child in my family, and I had already survived two rounds of breast cancer and at this point I had been successfully living with type 1 diabetes for 30 years. I felt responsible for everyone and everything around me. This made asking for help with my business extremely difficult. I don’t think I even told my therapist about my struggles. It was a deeply held belief that I was supposed to figure it out by reading books and being smart. Riding my bike and going for runs were the two things that kept me from completely giving up.
The tension got worse as 2012 started. I took out money from one of my retirement accounts to pay a few of the people who continued to create programs with me for TeamWILD. The sense of isolation increased. I had ended my relationship with my then boyfriend, and that created an even greater sense of aloneness.
The taxes debt situation didn’t improve and in fact it got worse. TeamWILD wasn’t making money, despite being popular with everyone we told about it. I kept giving away programs, hoping that if enough people understood what an online training program was, it would catch on. We were a bit ahead of the online training boom. In early June, it reached a head. I was completely desperate feeling. I felt like a total business failure. I felt utterly alone. The business financial failure piece overshadowed any sense of success I may have felt.
One day it got so bad, I decided the best way to handle it would be to leave. Meaning leave this life. I didn’t think that anyone really noticed me.
Not being noticed, not mattering
I know now that very old, from my childhood, belief of thinking that no one noticed me is not accurate, but at that point in my life, I did not understand that. I was still caught in the sense that I didn’t make a difference, and that I wasn’t noticed. I was profoundly ashamed of my financial failure. I was ashamed of my inability to figure out how to make enough money to support the business I had created and that I was very passionate about.
I felt so incapable and so alone, I figured that it would be better to simply leave. My leaving would take me out of the equation, and I figured the IRS had no one else to come after other than me for my back taxes, and if I was gone, then that debt would be gone. Plus, if I was dead, then I wouldn’t need any retirement money.
Additionally, I so profoundly believed that people didn’t really notice or care about me, I figured since our TeamWILD programs were barely selling, what I had to contribute to the world wasn’t worth continuing to live for.
On June 11, 2012, I took a number of sleeping pills and I took an excess of insulin. I went out to my backyard and I fell asleep on the lawn. I am not sure how long I slept. Somewhat miraculously I did wake up. When I woke up I was crying and I realized I wasn’t quite ready to go. I made a vow that later, if I couldn’t figure out my situation, I would try again. I remember, very dimly, deciding to give myself one year to see if I could sort out my situation. If I couldn’t, then I would leave in one year.
On that day in 2012, I’m not sure how I got help. I do know that I did get some help. I reached out. My old boyfriend came and stayed with me for almost a month. We hosted Camp WILD, and I attended and led. I went back to therapy. The irony is that I still never told anyone just how financially overwhelmed I still was, how lost I felt about how to figure out managing the business I was in charge of. I continued to keep that desperation close in, not honestly baring my truth to anyone. I was dancing around the truth. I still hoped that I would and thought that I should somehow figure it out, by myself.
I decided to leave Colorado. I thought being closer to my mother and brother and his family would be a helpful thing. I hoped that would help with the alone-ness I felt and the isolation I felt. In August, my mother and her husband came out to Colorado and they helped me pack up all my things and we loaded up a U-Haul truck and my brother’s truck and my car with my dog at the time Riley, and we drove from Denver to Saint Paul.
The idea was that for a few months, while my house was on the market, I would live with my mom. Turns out that was not a good decision. My mom hated living with a dog, too much shedding. I found myself attempting to vacuum every other day and sweep the floors every day.
Plus I noticed that I couldn’t read my mother. I couldn’t figure out if she was open to talking, if she wanted to eat together, or what. I generally felt like I was massively in her way. I’ve lived with lots of housemates over the years, and often I’m the one who convenes house meetings. I couldn’t figure out how to have a purposeful conversation about living together. After about one month, I found a little unit a few miles away, in a hip Minneapolis neighborhood.
During this time, I still was attempting to make a living with TeamWILD. Additionally, I was doing some speaking and coaching engagements with the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure bicycle rides. They paid me a bit for those engagements. I was eking out a little bit of income, just enough to pay rent, buy food and gas for my car. It was a month to month challenge, and the financial desperation grew.
Continued financial isolation
I remember that I revealed some of my challenge with the IRS to my mother. She did offer to help me sort some of it out. I remember we went to a tax lawyer. The meeting was completely overwhelming and not helpful. Both of us were disappointed. I realized my mother didn’t really understand the mess I was in and she’s never been a business owner. I then moved away from talking with her about the challenges I was feeling in regards to my financial difficulty. My isolation with my financial problem started to escalate.
In early 2013, the IRS started coming after me with intensity. At first I ignored them, hoping they would go away. Needless to say, they didn’t. Finally, after yet another IRS letter in late April, I tried calling the agent who had sent the letter. That particular agent was not in the day I called. The person I talked to didn’t understand my case, except to tell me I owed a lot of money and I had better pay as much as I could as quickly as I could. I got off the phone completely destitute feeling.
That spring, the TeamWILD team was working really hard to recruit people to CampWILD, a training camp for adults with diabetes to work on their athletic knowledge and skills. I felt the need to remain optimistic and upbeat. Again, I did not tell any of the team just how overwhelmed and desperate I was feeling. I kept my pain and confusion to myself. I believed I was supposed to be the strong one. In essence, I didn’t trust anyone.
In early June 2013, I went to Chicago for their Tour de Cure bike ride. It was a wonderful ride and their organizing volunteers were very welcoming and friendly. I was starting to feel more and more distant from everyone and everything. Some part of me knew that I was nearing my one year deadline for figuring things out. Essentially, I had NOT figured anything out.
I did not feel more connected to people. I actually felt more distant, more isolated. Despite having found a Minnesota therapist, I had not revealed my desperate financial situation or my intense isolation to this person. I had perfected the ability to project a put together life. I don’t suffer from depression, and I was still doing social things with people, and I still hoped that miraculously I would somehow, without getting any actual help, figure out my dire financial situation with the IRS.
Protect others, don’t trust or reveal
I had started to dissociate pretty profoundly. I had entered a phase of some part of me wanting to somehow protect my family from my deep financial failure. I thought they would be better able to deal with my death by suicide than to deal with my complete financial failure with the IRS. I still was under the belief that I didn’t really matter to anyone. I still believed that no one would really notice that I was gone.
I don’t remember writing a suicide note, but I did write one. I left it on my desk in my apartment. I made arrangements with my landlord to take care of my dog. I don’t know what I told them. I left my phone in my apartment. I was very serious about following through with my decision to leave, to die. I couldn’t find a solution to my crisis. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t connected enough. Essentially, I believed no one would notice I was gone. I actually believed that people would simply carry on, most likely better without me in the picture.
Not belonging, not connected, don’t trust
I realize now that belonging and being connected were not things I felt as a child. Given the trauma I grew up with, I was sexually abused by my father, by my maternal grandfather and by a babysitter, I very early figured out that love was very conditional and that it was my job to tune into what would cause danger and hurt to happen.
I learned through experience not to trust anyone.
I learned that I had to be completely self-reliant. I did not learn or experience how to feel connected to a community. I had not ever revealed my complete isolation.
Like I mentioned earlier, I am the oldest, and as the oldest, I felt responsible. In this instance, I felt protective of my family. I wanted to preserve the myth that my family was practically perfect.
I figured, since I was clearly NOT perfect, especially in regards to my financial failure, I should exit the scene. I believed that it would be better for me to die by suicide than to cause public embarrassment for my financial failure. I was convinced that would be a better option.
I took matters into my hands on June 11, 2013. I left my phone in my apartment. I made sure there was a plan for my dog to be cared for, at least for the immediate moment. That’s about all I clearly remember. Essentially, I shifted into a dissociated place. I don’t remember giving myself a massive overdose of insulin and I don’t remember taking over half a bottle of sleeping pills, but I did do both. Somehow I managed to drive myself away from where I lived to a random, rarely used road in Edina, Minnesota.
I went missing for over three days. During that time, a number of things happened that I don’t fully understand to this day. My family figured out that I was missing first. My sister-in-law posted something to my Facebook page, asking if anyone had seen me. That resulted in a small group of people I knew from the Tour de Cure Twin Cities to create an extensive search for me.
Their search for me extended to Denver, Colorado and to Santa Cruz, California, both cities where I had lived for more than nine years each. In addition, in the months before I went missing, several women had been randomly raped, so my being missing caught the attention of the Twin Cities local media. As a result, for the days I was missing, people searched methodically for me all over the Minneapolis – Saint Paul, Minnesota area.
I was found by a random man who lived near where my car was parked. He had seen my car in the morning when he was out for a walk. Then when he got home from work he took another walk and he again saw my car. He thought it was unusual that the same car would be in the same place both in the morning and the early evening. He approached my car to see if he could see anything inside the car. Apparently, he saw me in a reclining position in the driver’s seat. He had not heard about me being missing, but he knew he should call for help, so he called the police.
When the police got there, they broke open the car. Apparently the inside of the car was over 112 degrees, yes, it was HOT. They got me in an ambulance and they took me to the hospital. I remained in a coma for two more days, during which time they tested me for all the possible drugs I could have taken.
After a few days, I started to come out of the coma. I don’t remember waking up, but slowly I did. The hospital then moved me to the psychiatric ward, where I stayed for another 32 days or so. It was unclear how extensive the damage was to my brain or my well-being. I couldn’t speak clearly and I couldn’t function normally.
What I do remember was that I knew I was okay being alive. In fact, I remember that one of my first thoughts was that I had more that I needed to do with this life. I hadn’t yet remembered my near death experience, I just knew I wasn’t dead for a reason.
At first, in the psychiatric ward, they didn’t have anyone else with a similar situation and as a result, they didn’t really know how to deal with me. I had forgotten how to do things like fetch my food from the trays they brought to feed us. I didn’t know how to take a shower. I was pretty lost. I was very quiet, as I couldn’t remember how to form words.
I had been a long time meditator, and that I remembered how to sit in meditation. Very quickly, I realized that meditating every day was a good way to spend time. I also found myself in the various art therapy groups they hosted. I made bracelets, barrettes and painted wood stencils of things. Nothing particularly fabulous, just something to pass time.
No one came to visit me. I never really caught on to why no one came to see me. I just noticed that literally every single other person who was on the ward had regular visitors. It fed my belief that no one noticed me or cared if I was alive or dead. What I didn’t understand until much later was that my family told the wide community of more than 800 people who had created a special Facebook group about me was directed to “leave me and my family alone.”
I am thankful that after more than three weeks at the hospital, my longtime triathlon friend Delinda from Colorado decided to come visit me. It was wonderful to begin to again connect with the circle of friends who cared about my wellbeing.
An irony is that my mother didn’t come very often to see me. My sister had come to Minnesota to help at the time I was first missing and she was there at the very start of me being in the coma in the hospital. My brother and his family didn’t come to see me that I can remember, except once.
My first very clear memory happened one day that my mother came to see me. She had brought with her a folder. In the folder were various expenses I had, such as car insurance and other bills. What I vividly recall is that as she sat in a chair in the locked facility where my bed was, and I sat on my bed, she told me that she thought my life was a complete mess. She told me that she had no idea how I would ever get my life in financial order again. She then proceeded to tell me that she thought I was a total failure, and that she didn’t know how I would ever sort things out.
Her words registered.
In response, I felt a part of my brain come alive again. Something shook inside of me. I remember taking a deep breath and looking at her and asking her, “Do you know what you are saying to me?” She replied that yes, she knew what she was saying.
Grateful to be alive + sort things out
I then told her that I wasn’t dead and that I had decided I wanted to live, that I had more I was to do this life, and that to do those things, I needed to ONLY have people around me who believed in me and my ability to survive and sort things out. I said it sounded like she did not believe in me. What I remember is that she agreed, she did not believe in me. I said to her that if she wasn’t going to be on my team, she needed to leave immediately.
She got up and left.
That was the last time I have had a meaningful conversation with my mother. That was in early July 2013.
Regaining brain function
Slowly and surely I regained brain function. I believe the four to six hours of meditation I did every day helped. Slowly I figured out how to use the one computer available to all of us on the ward. I remember the first time I went on Facebook while in the hospital. I was completely overwhelmed with the clear amount of support that was out there for me. We only got access to the computer for 15 minutes at a time.
Meeting my endocrinologist
The one saving grace that happened while I was in that psychiatric ward was meeting the endocrinologist they assigned to help me with my diabetes. Her name is Rebecca Mattison. She was the one healthy, real person I met while in the hospital for more than a month. She figured out quickly that I wasn’t massively depressed like the hospital psychiatrist insisted. She knew there was more to my story than met the eye. She expressed interest in who I was. She recognized that I was grateful to still be alive, and that I wasn’t suicidal any longer. Dr. Mattison continues to be the endocrinologist I see to help me navigate my diabetes care.
Eventually they let me out of the hospital. I went back to my apartment. I was forced to find a new place to live, which thanks to a connection I had made at the meditation center I attended, I found a new place to live at the end of August 2013. My friend and diabetes superstar Scott Johnson helped me make the move.
The universe supported me
I got help from a Minneapolis social worker, who got me on food stamps and she helped me apply for and receive monthly emergency funding, which I received for more than two years as I regained my brain function and my financial footing. Additionally, those 800 Facebook friends had raised over $5000 that I proceeded to live on for the next year.
Not massively depressed. PTSD it is.
I also attended an outpatient mental health clinic every day for eight weeks. At this clinic, I met a psychiatrist who said that it did not seem like I was depressed. Her diagnosis was post-traumatic stress disorder, given all that I had endured from childhood on. The moment she told me that, I burst into tears. For the first time, a diagnosis made sense to me. I wasn’t depressed, instead I suffered from PTSD.
Rebuilding my life and telling my truth
Slowly, step by step, I rebuilt my life. In the six years since this happened, I have gotten amazing support and help. I decided to finally tell my truth to the therapists I was seeing. In being vulnerable with telling my truth, I got the help I had longed for my whole life.
I got financial help. I filed bankruptcy. I got financial coaching which led to becoming a financial coach. I found a job that I love. I learned how to live within my means. I continue to meditate every day. I forgive myself every day for not being perfect. I have almost no contact with most of my biological family. A few of them dislike me quite a bit.
Learning to be close to people, for the first time
Very slowly, I am learning to be close to people. I have a circle of beloved friends and colleagues. I realized I do matter. I do belong. This insight was hard won. It’s taken much deep introspection to learn how to mother and father myself, and to see that I do have an impact. That my being dead by my own hand wasn’t and isn’t the better option. I have survived the shame of financial failure. I still belong. There is support and help in the world for even me.
Thank you for reading this. My hope is that my courage to tell my suicide attempt story will help others who feel alone, who feel that they don’t matter.
With much gratitude and love.